Smell and flavor are irrevocably connected. I can't enjoy my ice cream when I'm standing next to a smelly garbage bin. My meal is less tasty when I'm sitting next to a chain smoker. The smell of deep-fried doughnuts is what lures me into the pathetic Christmas markets every year. Let's be honest: A tasty scent tingles your tongue and wets your appetite. Thankfully, a French company tinkered with the effects of good smells on your tastebuds and developed a hookah that chefs can use to create dishes in the form of vapor without using tobacco.
This is haute cuisine for your lungs.
Aroma Vapologie inventor Eric Gormand started developing luxury hookahs in 2006 after serving as a soldier in Sarajevo, where he fell in love with regular hookahs. The aim of his culinary device is "to bring a tobacco-free and easy-to-use product on the market that could bring molecular gastronomy to a whole new level." Gormand says that the device even helps him relax. During the period of its inception, molecular gastronomy flourished—everything was packed in smoke—so he came up with the idea to introduce the water pipe into mainstream French cuisine.
White truffle, ginger, absinthe, brandy, foie gras: these are all flavors that Gormand wanted to pair with some help from a hookah. Along with business partner Katherine Poulachon-Brault, the duo perfected the device that they officially launched in 2012. They collaborated with designers and chefs, and hoped that the pipe could find a proper place at the dinner table, your home, and restaurants. The culinary hookah is already on the menu in restaurants in Paris, Tokyo, and the Maledives.
Every hookah has a burner where you place the tobacco inside, but Gormand's device uses volcanic stones instead. These zeolites—humid volcanic stones as small as caviar—are placed in the burner, and on top of that, a piece of charcoal is placed in a separate, fireproof case. Once heated, the stones dry out and produce a flavorless, odorless emission.
Meanwhile, in the lower part of the hookah, the chef can add a liquid that determines the taste of the vapor. You can smoke vegetable bouillon, meat, fish, herbal tea, a smoothie, soup, or a cocktail. Hell—add a dash of Mojito in the liquid container and smoke it. By sucking on the hose, the vapors enter your mouth where it tickles your taste buds. That's what it's all about: combining the perfect vapor with the right dish.
Parisian chef Laurent Pichauraux is even experimenting with food vapors. One of his signature vapes involves combining his chocolate dessert with a hookah vapor of Cognac. "Aroma-Vapologie gives your dish a new dimension. Before you turn to cooking, you should figure out which scent best fits your dish. The Cognac vapor has a bitter tone that pairs beautifully with the rich and sweet taste of chocolate. The two complement each other perfectly," he says.
Michelin-starred chef, Julien Allano, is also down with the hookah. With a simple spread on rye bread, he allows his guests to inhale an oyster cloud. One puff of vaporized oyster sauce will make you think that you're at sea with Ernest Hemingway: "You taste, smell and feel the sea, like when you're eating a real oyster, only without the slimy texture that disenchants so many people," says Allano.
You inhale, take a bite, inhale, and take another bite to perceive all the flavors in full spectrum. Puff, puff, pass, but taste before you do. If you're already picturing yourself enjoying all these delicious flavors without gaining calories, you're wrong. The hookah doesn't replace meals. "We want to combine tasty vapors with dishes. It's a new way of tasting flavors in a more intense way," said co-creator, Katherine Poulachon-Brault. "You can compare it with wine, which shouldn't overpower the flavor of the dish, but it should enhance the subtle aroma's on your plate. That's exactly what Aroma-Vapologie does. The right aroma in your hookah can increase the flavor of your dish by tenfold."
If chefs start to frequently use this device, will we all be smoking dinner soon enough?